How to Lead a Small Group
Helping a small group grow together
This short article gives practical advice to group leaders, new and seasoned. Lists of questions and concerns help ensure that the group dynamics serve the group members and centre around God.
Leader, Navigators UK
Currently leads the Navigators in the UK, and travels into Latvia. Yet, his key role is one of prayer and standing with God. He is married and has four grown children.
How to Lead Small Groups
Groups are a great place for growth. There is the opportunity to bounce ideas around among a trusted group. There is the opportunity to share how we are feeling in a safe environment. Groups, however, don’t just work by themselves; a skilful leader can make a huge difference. This skill is not something that people are born with, it must be developed and the only way to develop it is with experience!
- Group Dynamics– Knowing how groups work helps you to lead them well.
- Discussion Dynamics– How to keep everyone engaged and on track.
- Crafting Questions– How to work out questions to develop a discussion.
- Writing Study Guides– How to write your own materials.
Since a group has a life of its own, if you understand how they work you can develop strategies that will enable you to stay ahead of the group or redirect it if it goes off track. By doing this you can help the group reach its aims and thus serve the group members.
There are a number of key dynamics for groups to work. Here are some thoughts on practicalities.
- Purpose– Without purpose, groups tend to fizzle out.
- Groups & leaders– Groups without leadership tend to stagnate.
- Bonded groups relate– Groups work best when relationships are good.
- Groups prefer patterns– If patterns are broken some lose heart and leave.
- Group dynamics– Dynamics change as the group size changes.
How can you lead a discussion? How do you handle difficult group members with tact? How do you guide a group through an issue to a conclusion? How do you help group members relate with each other? How do you handle silence in a group? Anyone who has led a group for any length of time will be familiar with these age-old questions.
Good discussions only happen by themselves when there is considerable maturity in the group. Developing a good group dynamic is a skill, and provides an opportunity to serve in many contexts. Here are some key factors that it is worth being aware of:
- How knowledgeable?– Know the knowledge of the group to balance discussion and teaching.
- Lead with questions– Questions help people think and direct the conversation.
- Where are you going?– Plan out the time to cover the subject matter.
- Guiding questions– You can develop the dynamics through guidance questions.
- Involve others– When one dominates, questions can break a monopoly.
- Head off diversions– Questions bring diverted discussions to the point.
- Handling silence– Silence is needed but often intimidates new leaders.
- Dominating members– Ask for help to lead the group.
- Seating– Try to arrange seating so all will be comfortable and see each other.
- Time– Keeping to the agreed time builds trust with the group members.
- Evaluation– Evaluating the group dynamic can help the leader develop.
Questions are the key to a good discussion. Questions take the focus off oneself. Questions give the initiative to the group. Questions help people engage with the issue at hand. Questions help people to think. Good questions can help people move from intellect to action.
Taking a group through a set of material, helping them to engage with it and deepen their understanding involves a process, and each stage of this process requires a different type of question.
Let’s look at a variety of question types and how they are put together for a discussion…
- Overview of discussion– Key stages are Launch, Understand, Summarise/Apply.
- Discovery or launch– Help participants engage with material to be discussed.
- Understanding– Look in depth (with honesty) at what is challenging.
- Application– What impact is this going to have on how we live and act?
- Guiding questions– Involve different people in the discussion. Probe for depth.
- Common pitfalls– e.g. asking questions where there is only one answer.
Writing Study Guides
Occasionally there is a need to write one’s own material. Any material that is used should set out to serve a number of different needs. For instance, it is good if the material will help people to engage with God. It is good if the material considers the spiritual maturity and knowledge of the users. Finally, it is good to have some experience with those using the material in order to know what their strengths and weaknesses are in preparing.
The heart of creating your own study is that you are serving the group who will use it. The temptation is to show off your amazing insights into the Bible. The following questions are aimed at helping you to engage with God and the users of the material such that you are helped to serve.
- Who is it aimed at? – Meet their need, not your own.
- Where is the Lord? – Seek God in prayer to understand what he desires.
- What type of study? – There are many forms of study. What serves this situation?
- Process of development – This is the sequence I would go through in developing a study.
- Engage with the Lord in prayer
- Rough plan
- Who aimed at (and so, depth needed)
- Type of study
- Engage with the context
- Biblical background
- Your own study
- What could be used? Don’t be tempted to put in too much.
- What is biblical? There can be a temptation to teach. Stick to the Bible.
- What is appropriate? Sometimes in view of maturity and hurts, issues are best skirted round.
- How has the Lord blessed me?
- Engage with Lord for your life!
- Structure of a study
- Questions for a study?
Copyright © Derek Leaf 2017
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